The NZ Herald’s interview with Gordon ‘Gordy’ MacLeod revealed that the new Ryman Healthcare chief executive is a heavy rock concert enthusiast, Holden HSV fanatic, kilt wearer, whisky connoisseur, proud Cantabrian and the head of New Zealand’s biggest listed retirement business. To view the original interview in the Herald, click here.

Gordon MacLeod

The fan of rock banks Disturbed, Guns N’ Roses and Shihad drives a red 2014 HSV Holden V8, wears tartan for formal occasions and was last month appointed to run Ryman, the 31-village NZX-listed business with a market capitalisation around $4.2b, which is now expanding quickly in Victoria, Australia.

Controversially, for such a big and profitable business, Ryman pays no tax – but more on that later.

From Forsyth Barr’s offices in Auckland, MacLeod tells of his close links to Scotland and a lifelong ambition to visit Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee – “which doesn’t sound like an ambitious ambition but I’m a big fan of the King.”

Currently Ryman’s chief financial officer, he will head the company from July 1, following current managing director Simon Challies’ announcement last month that he is suffering from Parkinson’s, and will step down but continue as a consultant.

MacLeod has been a cleaner, freezer store hand, accountant, corporate finance partner and finance director of a London listed high-tech engineering company.

He has a BCom – he and Challies studied together at Canterbury University – is a chartered accountant and a board member of the NZ Aged Care Association and the Retirement Villages Association.

But it was a mundane job that provided some life lessons. For three months, he worked in the Christchurch blast freezer of New American Ice Cream, “where it was around minus 30 degrees, so cold your eyelashes and eyebrows would freeze after 10 to 15 minutes. I learned two good business lessons there.

“The first was at morning tea, when the manager walked in, the conversation stopped. My father said ‘maybe he needs to walk the floor more’.

“The second was about five years later. I had to go back when I was working with Coopers & Lybrand, involved with the receivership of the company. I was only 23 and I had to say to the guys I worked with that they would lose their jobs but could they help with the stocktake? I felt sick because they had treated me very well. So it brought home to me that it’s important to look after cashflow and sales.”

The February 22, 2011 Canterbury earthquake provided his worst moment to date, waiting for hours with a single plainclothes detective, staring down would-be looters outside Clarendon Towers, where Ryman’s offices were ruined, waiting for his colleagues from the eleventh floor.

He had been out at a Rotary lunch event and returned to find stairways collapsed and staff trying to escape. They were guided by the Fire Service, “drenched from the water pipes. I can’t tell you what a relief it was when they came out.”

MacLeod’s Fendalton home was also condemned following the quakes and had to be replaced.

Promotion has been “bittersweet” for MacLeod, considering Challies’ reasons for stepping down.

“We’ve been an effective double act. I’ve been doing a lot of the externally facing roles to help Simon focus on internal improvements to the business lately.”

The pair go back a long way: “Simon and I played rugby together for a university team called the Boomshankers,” says MacLeod.

The word Ryman came from combining the names of company founders John Ryder and Kevin Hickman.

“They thought it would sound better than Hickr,” MacLeod jokes.

MacLeod was born in Stratford, Taranaki, but his parents shifted to Christchurch when he was four “and that’s been home ever since, apart from a seven-year stint in Cambridge, England”.

His father’s parents migrated here from Stornoway, Scotland. His father was a panel-beater who, with his wife, started an insurance business and MacLeod worked with them from the age of 12, doing part-time jobs and cleaning the office.

“My parents saved really hard to send me and my brother Andrew to St Andrew’s. Dad was keen we have Scottish culture.”

A doctor once attributed MacLeod’s good health to childhood exercise, walking uphill from his Spreydon home to Cashmere Primary School.

“Mum and Dad were very frugal and unless it was very heavy rain, I had to walk all the way up to school. I’ve got massive lung capacity.”

He loved everything Scottish about his secondary school, St Andrew’s College in Christchurch: “As prefects, we wore kilts on Fridays and had pipe bands at assembly.” Son Neil also attended the school, and is now in Wellington studying music at Massey University.

“He featured on Seven Sharp‘s Play It Strange recently with his song Settle. It was the same day my appointment to Ryman was announced, making that Friday a big day for the family,” MacLeod says.

After graduating, he was at PwC (then Coopers & Lybrand) for three years before heading to Cambridge on secondment at the age of 24. He spent the second half of his seven years abroad at Xaar Plc, a London Stock Exchange-listed technology business based in Cambridge, where he eventually became finance director.

He returned here in 2002 to work at PwC and in late 2006, life changed.

“Simon called on me to say Ryman was looking for a CFO and did I know any suitable candidates? I had a think for a few days before calling back to say I did: Gordon MacLeod. I was attracted because my Nana was a Ryman resident in Margaret Stoddart [Riccarton, Christchurch]. I saw first-hand how happy she was.”

He joined in 2007 and has been CFO, company secretary and deputy chief executive.

MacLeod met wife Barbara in her home country – Scotland.

“I met her on New Year’s Eve, 1995. We got engaged four months later and married near Aberdeen in 1997, an event attended by Simon and Tracey [Challies]. Barbara was living in Perth [Scotland].

“Back in New Zealand, my brother and I were scuba divers and Barbara’s older sister, Fiona, came here on an exchange and was in our scuba divers’ club. My brother and I went up to Glasgow in ’95 and Fiona invited us up to her mother’s home near Huntly [Aberdeenshire] for New Year’s Eve. Barbara and I hit it off. We got a bit cosy on the couch watching The Lion King. Afterwards, my brother Andrew wanted to go back up there, but I said ‘no, I’m going on my own!”

As for Ryman’s tax issue, MacLeod says the company pays none because of its significant development activity. Tax law exempts development profits. Ryman last month declared an underlying profit of $178 million for the year to March 31, 2017.

“We pay out half our profit as a dividends and since listing in 1999, we’ve paid out $585m in dividends,” says MacLeod. Shareholders pay tax on those dividends, which he says would be a significant amount.

Continuing the theme of combining cultures, MacLeod says he enjoys Scots food with a kiwi twist. “I do love haggis and I eat it with tomato sauce!”

GORDON NEIL MACLEOD

Age: 46
Position: Ryman Healthcare chief executive from July 1
Family: Married to Barbara, a GP. Children: Neil, 18; Katie, 14
Lives: In Fendalton, Christchurch
Education: Cashmere Primary School, St Andrew’s College, Canterbury University
Career: Worked for PwC, Xaar in Britain and Coopers and Lybrand
Nickname: Gordy
Last film: Moonlight “which I thought was extraordinary”
Reading: Kill The Father by Sandrone Dazieri “which my wife gave me”
Last holiday: Scotland and Rome with the family around Christmas

To view the original interview in the Herald, click here.

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